By Col. Syed Shahid Abbas
It was midnight 5/6 September 1965 when our unforgiving neighbor not comfortable with the cessation of this new found Muslim state ventured to mow it down under the spell of its formidable quantitative superiority.
Taking cover of the pitch dark night it intruded into our sacred land like a serpent in paradise. Lahore, the historic city and then the capital of West Pakistan was only 14.2 miles (22.72km) from the border. Pakistan’s vital GT Road and rail arteries were hardly within 40 minutes tank ride from Indian jump off point.
Quantitatively speaking Pakistan with less than one third of the Indian force who had the advantage of time and place of their choosing was no match. In case of a breakthrough the Indian assault could prove disastrous for Pakistan’s communication network. Hence, threatening its defensive posture in totality. India mounted thirteen major attacks on Lahore, Kasur and 15 major attacks on Sialkot front.
Despite the odds, Pakistani forces held their ground due to unparalleled gallantry, tenacity and strength of indomitable motivation they drew from the relentless support of dauntless and united people of Pakistan. The Indians had moved in three miles deep, in the first few hours of their attack before they came up against our defences. During the rest of 17 days, they could not advance as many inches.
The initial nine hours resistance offered to an Indian brigade size force at Hudiara drain by just a handful of Pakistan Army Jawans under Major Shafqat Baloch was the most crucial of the battles. It is remembered to this day as the most glorious chapters of our national history. The metamorphosis of this 6th September, 1965 action generated a patriotic upsurge in the whole nation and converted them into an indestructible edifice of national solidarity.
The battle of Sialkot, or the battle of Chowinda as it has come to be known, remains the subject of discussion in professional quarters even to this day. Our men knocked out four tanks for each of their own and this index, which has been corroborated by neutral observers, speaks volumes for the skill and guts of our tanks men. The contribution of Pakistan artillery in breaking the back of India’s offensive on Sialkot and on other fronts is yet another inspiring story.
On Lahore and Sialkot fronts Pakistan was fighting purely a defensive battle. In Kasur Sector, Pakistani troops not only contained one of India’s major thrusts to hit Lahore from the flank but they also went for a limited offensive action to prevent further enemy build-up. In a swift action they occupied Khem Karan thereby putting an end to whatever mischief enemy was brewing.
Pakistan Army also made a small push into Indian territory at Sulemanki. This action, again, was ordered to forestall Indian design to capture Sulemanki Headworks. In this area Pakistan occupied 40 square miles of Indian territory. In Rajasthan we captured over 1200 square miles of Indian land, from where India made desperate and futile bids to push us out.
In Kashmir, Pakistan’s action to break up India’s offensive build up in Chamb area was a perfectly planned text-book attack, which staggered the Indians who ran for their lives, leaving everything they had in their well-prepared defensive positions? In artillery alone, they left enough pieces for Pakistan Army to raise two field regiments. Pakistani troops occupied over 350 square miles of territory in Akhnur Sector and 16 square miles in Kotli Sector.
Behind the armed forces stood the people of Pakistan, dauntless and united. No visitor to Lahore during those fateful days could detect the slightest indication that a deadly struggle was raging right outside the suburbs of this stout-hearted city. As the armed forces took the enemy along the borders, the people in their own way plunged themselves into war effort, collectively and individually. On all roads leading to the battle-fronts, people thronged on both sides, all hours of the day, offering snacks, cold drinks, tea and cigarettes, to the troops on the move.
In the world of art and literature, the 17-days war brought about a real revolution. It transformed the artists writers, composers, poets, painters and the broadcast and newspaper media into front line fighters on the intangible, yet vital front of art. Poetry rode high on the wings of patriotism. The exploits of the soldiers were versified into ballads and set to stirring music. This was the inspiring spectacle of a whole nation in arms people standing side by side with the armed forces to face the challenge from across the border, courageously and dynamically.
Pakistan’s small but dedicated air force kept the Indians on the defensive by its relentless pressure, and maintained complete mastery of the sky throughout the 17-days war. The PAF launched deep penetration bombing missions on Indian airbases. It also provided effective close support to the Army on various fronts from Chamb to Rajasthan. Suffice to say that by September 23, when hostilities came to an end, India had lost 110 aircraft, besides 19 damaged. On its part PAF came out of war nearly unscathed losing only 16 aircraft.
The Pakistan Navy dominated the seas and kept our sea lanes open and safe for ships coming to Pakistani ports. It is a measure of its prowess that Indian Navy with its aircraft carrier and cruisers, never once showed up outside the safety of its bases. A swift and spectacular raid on Dwarka on September 7 was one of its brilliant demonstrations of daring action.
To quote from a 22 September 1965 war dispatch of a Times Magazine correspondent Mr Louis Karrar, “Who can defeat a nation which knows to play hide and seek with death? Playing with fire to these men – from the Jawan to the general officer commanding – was like children playing with marbles in the streets. I asked the GOC, how is it that despite small number you are overpowering the Indians? He looked at me, smiled and said: “if courage, bravery and patriotism was purchasable commodities, then India could have got them along with foreign aid.”